Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dangerous Generalization

Today’s post to the Social Business blog by Rich Harris on ZDNet has a fascinating headline:

Will advertising lose the war against word of mouth?

While this question may entail “a consummation/Devoutly to be wished,” Harris’ supporting argument has at least one questionable proposition:

59% of Americans believe offline word of mouth is highly credible, 49% believe online is.

Is this really true?  My guess is that the answer to this question is the rabbinical one:

It depends.

In other words it depends on just whose mouth is the source, whether that source is offline or online.  Thus, my neighbor may spend as lot of time reading Consumer Reports;  but, if he has never driven a car, I would be unlikely to hold a conversation about the best car for me to buy.  My guess is that there is an analogy to this assertion for just about anything I would be thinking about buying.

This does not negate Harris’ assertion that most people recognize that any advertising source is suspect.  However, that is a trivial conclusion to draw once you accept the premise that any communicative action has a motive, since you are unlikely to share the motive of the advertiser.  Nevertheless, identifying motive is never easy, even in the most conducive of settings.  Thus, however effective word-of-mouth may be, the question of finding a reliable and authoritative “mouth” is still with us and not easily solved.

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